The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources acquired the
two land parcels from the Canaan Valley Institute, paying $2 million for 730
acres and accepting a donation of 2,370 hundred more acres.
DNR Director Frank
Jezioro said buying the land gives the agency the opportunity to preserve a
place that is special.
“The land there in Canaan
Valley is unique in that it’s found
nowhere else but in the Arctic, in the northern climates,”
Jezioro said. “But it’s fragile and it needs to be conserved and it’s so
important for the public to have places to go, to have access.”
The West Virginia
chapter of The Nature Conservancy helped the DNR
acquire the land. State Director Rodney Bartgis said the property offers quite
a bit of diversity.
“The property has a wetland area, a bog area, up on top of Canaan
Mountain, so it has that high
elevation wetland with cranberries and many other kind of interesting animals
and plant that you see in the high elevation bogs,” Bartgis said.
“There are spruce forests on the property, although not a
lot, but there is some spruce left which is potential habitat for several rare
northern species,” he said. “And it’s also important because the Blackwater
River is one of the highest quality
rivers at high elevations in West Virginia.”
The property has a hiking and biking trail that is also a
section of the Heart of the Highlands trail system. It’s
a popular area for fishing and a place where DNR
stocks the river with trout.
Bartgis said the fact that the property ties the Monongahela
National Forest to the Canaan
Valley National Wildlife Refuge is also important.
“There’s quite a few animals, especially, that range over
fairly big areas, bobcat, bear, fisher, which is a predator that’s about the
size of a gray fox, that live in that part of West Virginia,” Bartgis said.
“And we need to be able to maintain connections between
their habitat areas as they try to move about. And that’s one of the things
that this property will allow, it will allow that continuous movement from one
area to another,” he said.
The Nature Conservancy, DNR
and other partners will use a portion of the property for the Central
Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative. Bartgis said at one time West
Virginia had about a half million acres of spruce forest but that has dwindled
to about 50,000 acres after logging in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s
decimated the forest.
“We cut and burned almost every acre of spruce we had in West
Virginia and as a result the critters and the plants
that need spruce forests, whether they’re northern species, or things that are
only found in our spruce forests like the Cheat Mountain Salamander, became threatened
and endangered or rare,” Bartgis said.
The initiative will try to increase the amount of spruce
Jezioro said DNR will
give some attention to other tree species as well, for example the aspen
growing on the property.
“Some of them are old and dying; some of the aspen needs to
be cut and when you cut the aspen it regenerates from the roots and springs up
so that you have new stands of aspen,” Jezioro said. “We’ll look at the wild cherry
up there and see if there’s some way to relieve some of the wild cherry stands
so that they can grow.”
But this particular piece of forestland is more than just a
beautiful place to hike, hunt or fish. It also has an interesting history.
“At one time it was owned by Supreme Court Justice (John) Marshall
back in the early part of the nineteenth century as an investment property that
he had acquired in the mountains,” Bartgis said. “Of course during his lifetime
nothing really happened in Tucker County
so he passed away before he was able to make a fortune off of it.”
Bartgis said the northern section of the property was part
of the original Fairfax boundary
line that was surveyed in the 1740’s by Thomas Jefferson’s father Peter.
The DNR used about $1 million
from the state’s Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund that was created in 2008 by
the legislature to preserve natural areas in the state. This is the first
purchase DNR has made with the fund. $950,000
came from the hunting and fishing license program. The Nature Conservancy
raised about $50,000 for the purchase.
Jezioro considers it money well spent to preserve a piece of
nature for future generations to enjoy.
“We owe them that. I don’t think we were ever put on this
land to use up everything and the generations coming on not know or not have
the opportunity to experience the great times that we had in the outdoors,”
Jezioro joined Bartgis and others for a hike on the property
Monday afternoon. He said walking around the 3,000 acres that link the Wildlife
Refuge and National Forest brought home the importance of preserving the land.
“Then you realize we have provided a corridor which will
give people access to thousands of acres uninterrupted where they can go and
just enjoy the great outdoors that God gave us,” he said.